When I re-read my last blog post, I actually feel a little naive…given the experience of “stay-treat” and how I have come to view it in my rearview mirror. I’m reading a lot of Jung right now, and his explanations of individuation as alchemy has relevance for me: the intentions with which I entered my stay-treat became transmuted (in quite unexpected ways) given the additional pressure on the vessel – the intensity of the pandemic added to what was already designed to be an ‘intensive’ (practice and writing block) became an experience of heaviness and dullness…and a LOT of resistance!
As my last blog described, the intensive started well – I reconnected with my writing project, and my Ngondro was benefitting from the container I had created for myself. As I previously described, structure suits me – it did as an athlete, it continued to as a meditator on retreat. But these past 2 weeks, intensity + structure became first a loss of steam; and then turned to resistance.
Easter Monday, so heavy and despondent did I feel in my morning practice that I took a time out. Why didn’t I feel uplifted and inspired? Why wasn’t my heart in this? Am I doing the right thing? I just want to sit around and have a coffee…that was it I thought “why don’t I grab a coffee and hang out with the gurus?”. So I did. I sat on my meditation cushion in front of the Kagyu refuge tree, the picture atop of my altar where I practice, drank coffee, and sat with my feelings. The unstructured time and space eased my ‘soul’. I connected with the wish to find more space, more expansiveness. Structure that normally served me so well had become claustrophobic in this current situation. It was like trying to do a double-Ngondro…and fellow practitioners might know how that feels, like doing prostrations in treacle!
I decided to play with the form-formless polarities. I knew each day what I would like in my day (that hadn’t changed), but I added the ingredient of ‘choice’ as a sort of antidote to the intensity of the lockdown experience. Who had I been kidding? This wasn’t a ‘retreat’: I was within an unchosen situation. When I go on retreat, I leave home, knowing that life continues, the world keeps spinning while I ‘step off’ for a while in the knowing I will return to something familiar. Stay-treat in these current times is NOT the same – the return to certainty is not a given right now. To not crush my soul under the pressure, I needed to find choice in the choicelessness of this all.
Some days I started with Ngondro, others I did morning writing instead. Sometimes I went for an early morning bike ride, sometimes I stayed in bed for breakfast and a gentle read. Cat cuddling continued as planned, obviously. I truly explored the feminine principle of receptivity, listening to my body-mind, not a schedule. New territory for me – and certainly a wisdom found through my confusion.
Talking to my transatlantic Ngondro peers (four of us meet on Zoom each Friday to practice together) helped immensely. And that was another factor in putting together the puzzle of what was happening to me. Not only did such conversations remind me that EVERYTHING gets folded in to practice (dull resistance is equal to “more worthy” emotions such as anger, sadness or shame); it also pointed out my need (all our needs) for Other. I am missing people in my life, they are essential for mirroring my experience, and I feel the lack of contact (while equally SO appreciative for at least the online connections still being possible). One of my Ngondro group used the word “fellowship”, and in the days following our group sharing I focused in practice periods on the support of ‘sangha’ both here and in the US (so significant a place when it comes to my spiritual roots).
I met my meditation mentor because of my transatlantic spiritual ‘quests’; and she too has been a vital part in the turnaround and a renewed connection to what I am doing. She helped me realign and broaden my view. Not only is everything workable, my experience IS the Vajrayana! Nothing is left out; what happens to me on the cushion is also happening off the cushion, in everyday life. While the resistance didn’t lessen any, I was able to see how that experience in practice was mirroring an experience of resentment in everyday life. Allowing this energy to be here has been incredibly powerful and liberating for me.
Compounding much of my recent experience has been my inability to “get my head around it”. For someone whose default is the cerebral, the intellectual, the cognitive navigation of her world, not getting “this” situation has been SO SO SO hard! I can’t explain how we got here, I can’t understand how we get out. It has also occurred to me how much this “dissonance” has affected me. On one hand I know I am safe (and I can be incredibly content and appreciative of being in my bubble…with my cat); yet there is a background of feeling scared. How can a mind compute being safe yet feeling scared, at the same time? THIS is the Vajrayana again, both / and, not different, “one taste”. Being with the dissonance is the practice.
I’m still very much in the midst of all of this, we all are (in our myriad of ways). I’ve returned to work, and reconnecting with my clients and my students has added another vital ingredient to the alchemical vessel: in the past 2 weeks, I have noticed the lack of context for my practice and my writing. Getting back to work, I remember the “why” of what I have chosen to do with my life. My bodhisattva vow comes alive again.
The Vajrayana teaches that with “one taste”, there is no preference. So, whilst I allow myself to connect with this current feeling of gratitude, I know the recent experience of resentment is of equal importance. I imagine there are many many more ups and downs ahead of me in this lockdown period…it ain’t over yet.